History of Voting Rights

Published:November 5, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

Election Day is tomorrow, and the above video does a nice job of relaying the anything-but-even progress in voting rights over the years. Although it covers a lot of territory in just three-and-a-half minutes, I noticed one gap worth filling in. The video notes the widespread, “unofficial” attempts at disenfranchising black citizens in the years immediately following the Civil War, and it mentions the Ku Klux Klan and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), in which the United States Supreme Court ruled segregation constitutional.

“Jim Crow Takes its Toll,” the video explains, so that by 1908 “African-American voting falls into a deep decline.”

This feels passive to me—as if there weren’t “official,” government-sponsored, and very explicit actions taken to achieve this outcome of few black voters. In Virginia, at least, the KKK and the Supreme Court had less to do with disenfranchisement than the Virginia Constitution of 1902. In writing it, the state’s white men openly called the Fifteenth Amendment, providing for black suffrage, “a stupendous blunder” and “a crime against civilization and Christianity.” With equal frankness they discussed ways of eliminating its effects in ways that technically followed the law. And they were successful.

It’s important to remember that when black voting fell off the cliff, there were white lawmakers there doing the pushing.

VIDEO SOURCE: Democracy Distilled by eLocalLawyers.com